“How much experience do you need to be a travel nurse” is by far the most commonly asked question that I receive day after day. Before I get to answer it, let’s first break down what exactly a travel nurse is so that you can best understand the reasoning behind my answer.
But, before reading, you should know I’ve been a nurse for 8+ years and spent five of those years as a travel nurse. I’m an expert on all things travel nursing and am so passionate about helping staff nurses make the leap to travel nursing so that they can make more money, get more time off, and see the world! If you’re interested in becoming a travel nurse and need a bit of guidance, I highly suggest that you purchase The Ultimate Travel Nurse Bundle.
What Exactly is a Travel Nurse?
A travel nurse is a contracted nurse who works at hospitals that have a shortage of nurses (or a significant increase in patient population). Contracts can range from any amount of time, but a typical travel nurse contract lasts about 13-weeks.
A travel nurse is just like a staff nurse, but not a permanent part of the hospital. Travel nurses get the same training and schooling that staff nurses get, as they have to be staff nurses before they can become travel nurses. Travel nurses are flexible, smart, and generally adaptable. I would also point out that travel nurses generally learn quickly, as policies at different hospitals are always different and the orientation process for a travel nurse is very short (ranging from a couple of hours to a couple of shifts).
With all of that being said…
How Much Experience Do You Need to Be a Travel Nurse?
Generally, to be a travel nurse, I would say that you need a minimum of two years of experience (on one specific unit). Although, there can be some leniency to this.
For starters, the “two-year” rule is mainly, in my opinion, for safety reasons. Once you become a travel nurse you’re expected to jump right in and know what you’re doing. Although I still ask questions daily, you need to have a general understanding of how to do everything. How can you learn “everything” in one short year? You need to be confident in your skills and knowledge base to be able to show up, get little to no orientation, and safely take care of patients.
Plus, most reputable hospitals won’t hire travelers with less than two years of experience. I know one NICU nurse who traveled after working for 1.5 years and she said that it was tough. She was only able to get a few jobs in undesirable areas, but she said most jobs were out of reach. And while there are hospitals that will hire travelers before gaining two years of experience, I urge you to think of it like this. Why is the hospital in such a bind that they would risk patient safety to have you join their team? There must be something seriously wrong in the unit to need help that badly. And do you want to be a part of that?
YOUR SPECIALTY MATTERS
Now let’s back up. I mentioned earlier that the two-year rule also comes with some leniency. And that is – what is your specialty? For critical care and intensive care settings, you’re going to need to have two+ years of experience before you start traveling. For other units, like med-surg, a general pediatric floor, etc, you may be able to start traveling before two years. If this is you and you’re ready to start traveling before your two years of experience I urge you to get with a recruiter you trust and be 100% honest about where you’re at with your skills.
Please note, there can even be an exception to the “specialty” rule. That is, say you work in the NICU at a level IV hospital taking care of the sickest babies out there. If you were desperate to begin traveling, you may be able to snag a job on a well-baby floor or in a level II NICU.
Need tips on how to find a trustworthy recruiter? Read these posts:
TRAVEL NURSING BEFORE YOU GAIN 2 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
Inevitably there is going to be someone who reads this post who isn’t *thrilled* about my “2-years of experience” answer. And if that’s you, you may even be thinking, “I’m going to prove her wrong!”. To which I say, “Good for you. I love someone who knows what they want and goes for it!”. If you are set on traveling before you gain two years of experience, here are some general tips to get you traveling quicker and safely…
- Be the most experienced nurse on your floor. Ask for tough assignments, go out of your way to learn, and make sure to continuously practice your skills!
- Go above and beyond when getting certified. If you’re only required to have BLS, get your ACLS too, and any other certifications that are relevant to your specialty.
- Ask to float/cross-train to other relevant floors (just make sure a majority of your time is spent on your “home” unit). Chances are you’ll be floated as a traveler, it’s best to prepare while you’re still staff so that you can get a proper orientation.
You Have 2-Years of Experience… Now What?
Let’s back up… BEFORE you have your two years of experience, you should start reaching out to recruiters (plural, I highly suggest working with more than one recruiter when you start) about five months before you’re ready to go. This way you can submit everything you need to submit, get your references, and generally get all of your ducks in a row.
Once you’ve reached out to a recruiter and told him/her your desired start date, they will start submitting you to jobs you want, you’ll interview, and land your first travel nurse assignment! And trust me, the fun has only just begun…
Are you looking for more information about traveling nursing? Read these posts!
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